Wisconsin deer opener: Cold, slow and social

BRULE -- On a Wisconsin gun deer opener that dawned with a 5-degree chill, Harvey Roden of Iron River appeared to have it made. Roden, 86, sat in an elaborate enclosed deer stand near Lake Nebagamon on Saturday morning. He was ensconced in a swiv...

BRULE -- On a Wisconsin gun deer opener that dawned with a 5-degree chill, Harvey Roden of Iron River appeared to have it made. Roden, 86, sat in an elaborate enclosed deer stand near Lake Nebagamon on Saturday morning. He was ensconced in a swivel chair behind sliding glass windows. The floor was carpeted.

Best of all, three gas heaters sat in one corner ready to warm the elevated stand. Roden sat in the stand for nearly four hours on opening day of the nine-day gun season. But he never fired up a single heater.

"I don't mess with those things," he said.

It's hard to say how cold it might have to get before Roden would mess with one of those things. But he just toughed it out Saturday.

"He's a warrior," said Jamie Vee, 31, of Iron River.


Roden was hunting, as he has for nearly 40 years, with the Vee clan -- Scott Vee, 58, of Brule; along with sons Jason Vee, 35, of Lake Nebagamon; and Jamie.

Opening morning for Roden and the Vees mostly lived up to preseason predictions that deer numbers were down and that hunting could be tough. By mid-morning, when the temperature and the wind must have both reached double figures, Roden and Jason Vee had seen one doe apiece. Scott Vee had seen nothing. Jamie, hunting on public land, saw eight deer, including three bucks. Very few shots were heard.

The largest buck Jamie had seen was an eight-pointer, and that just doesn't cut it in the Vee family. They like their bucks big, and they're willing to wait for them.

On the walls at Scott Vee's hunting cabin on the banks of the Bois Brule River, six drool-worthy bucks hang on the wall. On Friday night, when Vee husbands, Vee wives, Vee kids and Vee friends gathered for the traditional pre-opener dinner, the bucks looked down with detached indifference on the proceedings. The grandkids wrestled and bounced. Jamie and his wife, Nikki, told the story of the two gray wolves they had trapped earlier this fall. Jason tended steaks on the grill.

A time to gather

While the gun deer season is the pinnacle of fall for many of Wisconsin's 650,000 gun deer hunters, it's mainly an interlude for the Vees and Roden. They hunt the archery season with diligence, and they look forward to the muzzleloader hunt that follows the gun season. The gun season is family time.

"It's a social event," said Scott Vee, the patriarch of the gang.

"The idea of the rifle hunt is to have fun," said son Jamie, the one whom family members call the "Deer Commander" for his role as organizer of the hunt.


Typically, the biggest bucks are spent from chasing does and perpetuating the species leading up to the rifle season, Scott Vee said. With the rut mostly wrapped up by the time gun season starts, the bucks tend to lie low and recover.

"Then muzzleloader season starts, and four or five days into that, it gets cold," Scott Vee said. "By the end of muzzleloader season, the big bucks get susceptible to baits."

Baiting for deer is legal in Wisconsin, and nearly all hunters use bait. During muzzleloader season, the biggest bucks can be lured to feed during daylight hours, Scott Vee said. That's how some of those big bucks make the wall at Vee's cabin.

Roden, for his part, already has taken one buck this fall, in the archery hunt. In his ninth decade, he uses a crossbow, and he took an eight-pointer.

"I've got venison in the freezer," he said Saturday morning. "I don't know why I'm here, but it's better than sitting at home in the rocker."

He knows why he's there. It's because his four-decade friendship with Scott is built on days spent afield or on the water, and he isn't planning to miss any more if he can help it.

Doing their research

The Vees take their gun season hunting "moderately seriously," Jamie Vee said. The family has more than 10 trail cameras out at any given time, and the hunters check them daily this time of year. They recognize the biggest bucks from one year to the next by the distinctive pattern of their antlers.


"My big buck is back," Scott Vee announced after checking a trail camera following Saturday morning's hunt. "It's the first time I've seen him this year. He has 13 scoreable points."

Jamie Vee checked one camera after leaving it out Friday and Friday night.

"I had 1,100 pictures on it," he said.

That means that deer tripped the camera's motion sensor and triggered an exposure 1,100 times in about 24 hours.

"There were at least 12 bucks," he said.

The Deer Commander

The other Vees acknowledge that Jamie is the alpha hunter of the group.

"He's obsessed," his dad said. "I remember when I realized that Jamie was a better deer hunter than me. He just has a more innovative approach. He thinks things out well."


Jamie has been wild for hunting and fishing since childhood. During college, he spent a summer as vehicle driver for a professional hunter in South Africa. At the tail end of the gun deer season, he often makes a quick trip to Kansas to see if he can take a trophy buck there. Then it's back for muzzleloader season.

Meanwhile, the gun deer season rolled on. It's a custom in Douglas County for different deer hunting camps to host neighboring camps throughout the week for gatherings. The Vees will make their rounds and catch up on the news from other camps.

It's a social thing.

Over breakfast at the Kro Bar in Brule after Saturday morning's hunt, Scott Vee said northern Wisconsin's diminished deer herd is likely to catch a break from hunters glued to television broadcasts this weekend.

"The deer have it made," Vee said. "The (Wisconsin) Badgers and the (Minnesota) Gophers play today (Saturday), and it's the Packers and the Vikings tomorrow (Sunday)," he said. "That's good for about 20,000 deer right there."

The Vee gang will be waiting for some of those bucks come muzzleloader season.

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